Skip to content

Acton University: Arguably worse than hundreds of neo-Nazis coming to Grand Rapids

June 12, 2019

Next week, from June 18 – 21, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, will hold its annual conference, in what is called Acton University.

The four day gathering will bring over a thousand people to Grand Rapids, people who will be presenting the 110 classes and those who have come to learn. Acton University costs a mere $800 for the registration, plus travel and lodging for the four days, which should give you an indication of the kind of people who will have access to such a gathering.

The 110 courses that people can chose from are primarily centered around a theological justification of capitalism, but there are also numerous courses that argue the benefits of small government, an end to state run welfare systems, education policy and how the private sector can save society from the evils of socialism. 

The title of this article suggests that those who will be attending Acton University next week are arguably more dangerous than neo-Nazis coming to Grand Rapids. What follows is why I think this is the case.

  • It is important to recognize that the Acton Institute is primarily a Think Tank that is part of a larger network of organization on the far right that are committed to change public policy that fits within their ideological framework. The Acton Institute is part of the State Policy Network is a nation entity which coordinates efforts around the county to influence state policy and works in tandem with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • The Acton Institute has been the recipient of millions from the DeVos and Prince families. There have been several members of the DeVos family that have sat on the Acton Board of Directors (currently Rick DeVos) and Else Prince Broekhuizen is currently a board member.
  • Now that we have established their funding base and the national networks that they are part of, it is important to acknowledge that the Acton Institute is a staunch defender of capitalism. This means they support the accumulation of wealth by a hand full of mostly rich white men, while billions around the world, meaning mostly people of color, live in poverty are displaced and face hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis. In fact, the founder of the Acton Institute, Rev. Robert Sirico, at their 2017 annual dinner was quoted as saying, “We don’t have the right to condemn the rich. We don’t believe in class struggle and class warfare. We believe in class encounter. Where the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.” In other words, Sirico believes that the capitalist class are the ones that “save” poor people, specifically through charity. We also know that under the economic system of capitalism, black and brown communities in the US disproportionately experience poverty at higher rates than white people do.
  • The Acton Institute, through many of the people who write for them, defends the politics of Islamophobia
  • The Acton Institute has been a staunch defender of the privatization of education and Charter Schools
  • The Acton Institute has received money from Exxon/Mobil to deny the existence of climate change, which is causing species extinction and significant human suffering.
  • The Acton Institute defends the current violence being perpetrated against the immigrant community, both in a story from 2017 and 2018.

This is just a sampling of the kinds of policies that the Acton Institute endorses, policies that fit within the framework of Neo-liberal Capitalism. Now, I think that whenever neo-Nazis come to Grand Rapids, they should be protested and confronted. However, the Acton Institute promotes and influences public policy that directly harms more people than neo-Nazis. We can and should oppose those who have Nazi tattoos, but we should also oppose those who wear suits or those that sport a religious collar from hosting an event that will sure have a negatively broader impact on people in this community and throughout the world.

Taxpayers to cover the costs of more GRPD racial sensitivity training, amidst police violence against black and immigrant communities

June 10, 2019

Last week Tuesday, MLive reported that the Grand Rapids City’s fiscal committee voted to spend $21,268 to send two GRPD officers to Boston for a 2 week training on “racial reconciliation.” 

This decision is based upon one of the recommendations that came out of the 21st Century Policing Solutions from last year. 

The two GRPD officers who are going are Captains Geoff Collard and Dave Schnurstein. Captain Collard made headlines earlier this year when he said at a press conference that the Grand Rapids City leaders:

“will dismiss any actions by members of the Grand Rapids Police Department that are in compliance with established laws, policies and recognized best practices in law enforcement and will instead cower to ‘mob rule’ behavior of any organizations that raise vocal opposition.”

In the same written statement, Collard goes as far to suggest that the City of Grand Rapids has been in collusion with Movimiento Cosecha GR: 

“On May 1, 2018, during a large protest, leaders of Movimiento Cosecha GR intentionally overran a police position for the second year in a row. Warrants were sought, sworn to, and issued by a judge for the arrests of two individuals. Shortly thereafter, the Acting City Manager and the Mayor became involved and the warrants were squashed. There is no clearer example that our city leadership would rather appease these groups who intentionally violate the law to purposely disrupt businesses and residents in Grand Rapids while endangering the lives of our officers, the general public, and their own protestors. Having known about this obstruction of justice, of which the current City Manager has also been notified, we are only left to believe that support for our personnel while acting with great restraint and being overrun by law breaking individuals does not and will not exist.”

Such a claim is patently absurd, yet the fiscal committee wants to spend over $21,000 to send Collard and another captain to Boston to get training that will somehow build trust between black and brown communities and the GRPD.

A description of the training can be found at the Police Executive Research Forum site, which says of the training: 

The policing profession is changing like never before. New technologies and privacy issues, the implications of cybercrime, and the constantly evolving terror threat represent new and difficult challenges for police that did not exist a generation ago. Communities also expect more from their police departments in terms of procedural justice, increased accountability and transparency, appropriate use of force and racial reconciliation. Plus, today’s recruits differ in significant ways from previous generations. Chiefs must find new ways to address these issues and deliver a wider scope of services, often with fewer resources.

Does racial reconciliation training work for police?

Beyond the amount of money the City of Grand Rapids is spending on these two officers, we have to ask ourselves if this kind of training will actually achieve the goal of creating racial reconciliation. In an article in The Atlantic some 18 months ago it states: 

But even as the classes spread, it’s not clear whether they actually work. Few specific guidelines exist for what courses should include, how the material should be taught, or how to measure its effects. Indeed, little data exist about their efficacy over the long term. The Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing included implicit-bias training on its list of best practices for law enforcement, but without specifics. That ambiguity leaves each agency to decide what the classes should look like—and whether they’re succeeding.

At their root, the trainings spring from one basic proposition: that unconscious biases—including those linked to factors like economic class and gender, but especially racial biases—are the inevitable product of growing up in a society where stereotypes are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Beneath the surface of the conscious mind, biases influence how people frame and interpret those around them—from whether a smile is shy or sarcastic, to whether a hand is reaching for a wallet or a gun.

In his important book, The End of Policing, author Alex Vitale writes:

Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terrible effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motivated, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests: both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, but because institutional pressures remain intact.

Lastly, Vitale also makes the distinction about what the institutional function of police department are, which is to protect power and business as usual. Vital states, “Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly  low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.”

Therefore, we should in no way be fooled by or expect that Captain’s Collard and Schnurstein will significantly alter how they interact with black and brown communities or how they will respond to activists and organizers who are exposing police violence.

Some people wore bags on their heads at the first Pride in Grand Rapids: Resisting the homophobic, transphobic and heterosexist culture of West Michigan Nice

June 9, 2019

Later this week there will be the annual Pride Celebration in Grand Rapids, making it 31 years since the first Pride event. In addition, there are two other events being hosted during the week, also centered around the LGBTQ community.

First, on Wednesday, there will be an event to commemorate the queer and trans identifying Latinx and Black people who were killed at the Pulse 49 Club in Orlando, Florida, three years ago. 

Lastly, there is also a Take Back Pride March – End Police Violence action, hosted by Grand Rapids Anti-Fascist Action. 

Thirty one years ago, people in the LGBTQ community organized the first Pride event in Grand Rapids. It was held in the old Monroe Amphitheater, now known as Rosa Parks Circle. Someone video taped about 90 minutes of the very first Pride in Grand Rapids, which you can watch here. Members of the Christian community came to harass those gathered for the Pride Celebration, engaging in hate speech and publicly condemning those gathered.

There were also numerous organizations from around the state who were tabling at the first Pride in GR and several of those groups got up on the stage to speak about their work. The mayor of Grand Rapids, Gerald Helmholdt, did not support or endorse the first Pride Celebration, in fact he spoke rather disparagingly of the “gay community,” something that Jeff Swanson talked about in the interview we did with him for the People’s History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids documentary. 

There were also people who came to the Pride event who wore bags over their heads, for fear of losing their jobs. While there is more room for people to be public about who they are, Grand Rapids and West Michigan still is not a very safe space for those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer. This is especially the case for  those in the LGBTQ community that are black or latinx, part of the immigrant community or queer youth.

What follows is an overview of some of the history in Grand Rapids, based upon the lived experience of the LGBTQ community. This history can also teach us about how deeply homophobic, transphobic and heterosexist the Grand Rapids community has been and continues to be since the first Pride in 1988.

AIDS Quilt founder spoke at the 1990 Pride event in Grand Rapids

1991 GRTV show with members of the LGBTQ community. 

Anti-Gay businesses in Grand Rapids and the defeat of the first attempt to get an anti-discrimination ordinance in 1991. 

1992 video conversation with members of the Network in Grand Rapids. 

The Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission, the LGBTQ community and the 1994 anti-discrimination ordinance.

Rich DeVos and the AIDS crisis.

Dennis Komack was fired from his job at the Grand Rapids Art Museum because of his involvement with Sons & Daughters, a LGBT bookstore/cafe that used to be in Grand Rapids. (see the section on Sons & Daughters in the People’s History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids.)

GVSU LGBT Faculty were denied domestic partner benefits in 1995 because Rich DeVos and Peter Cook threatened to withdraw financial support for new Health & Sciences building in Grand Rapids. (also documented in the People’s History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids.

What is important for me, as someone who is not part of the LGBTQ community, is that those of us who identify as straight, need to understand, expose and fight the systems of oppression that those in the LGBTQ community face on a daily basis. Attending Pride and changing our FB status to the rainbow flag are cool and all, but one of the most important things we can do as allies is to resist and dismantle the very systems of oppression in this community that translates into queer youth being homeless, that uses state violence against LGBTQ communities of color and perpetuates severe spiritual violence in the CRC land.

What does Racial Equity mean in Grand Rapids: Positive Rhetoric, mild reformism, but a failure to address system racism and White Supremacy

June 6, 2019

Beginning in 2016, the Kellogg Foundation provided $300,000 to Grand Rapids for its 3 year Racial Equity Initiative.

Two of the goals of this initiative are: 

Creating more jobs and employment of residents in Grand Rapids neighborhoods in 17 census tracts that have 48 percent of residents living in poverty that have the highest racial and ethnic diversity.

Create group and individual action steps that will have both immediate and long-term impacts.

While the Kellogg Foundation has provided the funding for this project, Grand Rapids is working with the Government Alliance on Race & Equity

Last Friday, an article was circulating on social media, that was written by someone who works for the National League of Cities. The article was headlined, In Grand Rapids, Neighborhoods Are the Cornerstone of Racial Equity.

The brief article talks about when Grand Rapids began their Racial Equity Initiative and what it has accomplished so far. The article is rather vague and identifies two ways that Grand Rapids can achieve racial equity. One way Grand Rapids is working to achieve racial equity is through the annual Neighborhood Summits. While I acknowledge that this summit has brought people together to work on specific issues, it has primarily approached social change from a “lets create more opportunities” approach, rather than a “lets address structural racism and dismantle White Supremacy” approach.

The second way that Grand Rapids is addressing racial equity, according to the article, was, Using Accountability and Root Causes to Create More Equitable Economic Development. However, the explanation provided only talked about the need to develop accountability tools, plus there was NO mention of addressing root causes.

In many ways the article was a fluff piece that did not provide an honest assessment of where Grand Rapids was in terms of racial equity or racial justice.

What follows are some areas where racial equity is not being achieved, especially for communities of color in Grand Rapids:

  • Black and Brown communities continue to be harassed, intimidated and brutalized by the GRPD and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Grand Rapids. Racial profiling of motorists of color is well documented and the way that policing is done in Grand Rapids targets neighborhoods of color and identifies them as high crime areas.
  • The housing market in Grand Rapids benefits the Real Estate industry, developers and property management companies and punishes working class families and communities of color. Gentrification has hit African American and Latinx neighborhoods the hardest, causing displacement and significant increases in the cost of home ownership and rental properties.
  • Communities of color continue to experience high levels of food apartheid and food insecurity, with limited access to fresh produce and whole foods.
  • The wealth gap in Grand Rapids is the highest in Michigan, yet there is no serious efforts to change this reality when it comes to communities of color, except for the false solutions offered through entrepreneurial projects.
  • The Grand Rapids Public Schools, which has a majority of black and latinx students, is grossly underfunded overall, yet it has a two tiered system that favors specialty schools that received a great deal of funding, while some schools lack educational resources and basic needs like heating.
  • Neighborhoods where the majority of the residents are from communities of color experience high levels of poverty, have limited green space, have high levels of lead and poorer air quality.

Conversely, there is little acknowledgement of the systemic racism or the structures that support white supremacist values, such as the private sector, the religious community, the criminal justice system, the news media and even the very government that is tasked with implementing the Racial Equity Initiative.

The Kellogg Foundation funding for this 3 year project is slated to end in March of 2020. Who in this community thinks that Grand Rapids is actually making significant strides towards Racial Equity???

Another look at the Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative: History, representation, reformism and radical imagination

June 4, 2019

During the past month, there have been several news stories about the local campaign to expand the political ward system in Grand Rapids from 3 to 8 wards. The group behind the campaign is Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative (GRDI). 

The mission statement of the group says:

The Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative is a non-partisan effort to ensure that all residents of Grand Rapids have representation and access to democracy through ease of voter registration, and understanding voter rights. We are advocating for a, or multiple ballot proposals to change the Grand Rapids City Charter to include the following:

  • 8 city wards with 8 City Commissioners
  • Special elections instead of appointments for vacated seats

In early May, MLive ran an article about the campaign, and last Friday, Revue Magazine posted their story. The MLive story is pretty basic, with several of those involved with the  effort cited, as well as Tim Gleisner, former head of special collections at the Grand Rapids Public Library. Gleisner was quoted as saying, “The opposition groups felt that city government was better run as a business and more streamlined when commissioners were representing not at a local level but the city as a whole. That was a big concern, they didn’t want local interests to dominate the discussion.”

While Gleisner’s statement isn’t inaccurate, it doesn’t fully reflect why the City Charter was changed from a 12 ward system to a 3 ward system in 1916. The business community was so threatened by the 1911 Furniture Workers Strike, that they didn’t want to leave the future of city politics in the hands of working class people. Here is a summary of what happened from the Grand Rapids People’s History Project:

During the 1911 Furniture Workers Strike and its aftermath, the business community and leading industrialists, began to develop a plan that would significantly alter the way electoral politics was done in Grand Rapids. 

The 1911 Furniture Workers Strike revealed several things to wealthy industrialist. First, there was a growing threat of Socialist and Anarchist politics, particularly with the Socialist Mayoral candidate, Edward Kosten, in the 1912 Mayoral race. Out of the 14,772 votes cast in the Mayoral race in 1912, Kosten received a total of 2,315 votes in a three candidate race, which was roughly 1 out of 7 votes.

Second, the wealthy industrialist of Grand Rapids were further committed to the notion that, in the words of Chief Justice John Jay, “the people who own the country ought to govern it.” Not only was this sentiment embraced by the wealthy industrialist in Grand Rapids, it was endorsed by Frank M. Sparks, the political correspondent for the Grand Rapids Herald. Sparks had written a book, The Business of Government Municipal Reform.

In his book, Sparks wrote, “just as ownership in the modern corporation had been divorced from management, so, too, must the individual citizen let professionals guide the direction of municipal life.”  Sparks went on to say, “Citizens were like shareholders in the modern municipal corporation. If they wanted more efficient government they must be prepared to surrender direct control of policy to elected commissioners who would serve as a board of directors and in turn hire professional managers.”

Third, the wealthy industrialist were deeply concerned about the current political ward system in Grand Rapids. The majority of working class people had too much influence in the outcome of elections, so a new ward structure was proposed in the 1916 City Charter.

Grand Rapids, at the time, was made up of a twelve ward system, with 2 aldermen elected from each ward and a strong mayor. (see Grand Rapids ward map above) What was proposed in the 1916 City Charter was to have a three ward system with two commissioners from each ward and a weak Mayor, meaning that the Mayor would only have one vote and in a sense be a glorified commissioner. In addition, there would be a City Manager position, which would essentially run the day to day tasks and make recommendations. For many, the City Manager position was the real power behind city hall.

This third factor, in determining the city’s political future, would limit bloc voting, particularly among ethnic communities and religious sectors, and give greater control to electoral outcomes. The voting numbers in the 1916 Grand Rapids City Charter were revealing.

In August of 1916, voters went to the polls to determine the future political structure of Grand Rapids. The new Charter won by a small margin of 7,693 votes in favor to 6,012 votes in opposition. According to Jeffrey Kleiman’s book, Strike: How the Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids, the wards that voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Charter change were made up of the city’s elite.

The Second, Third and Tenth wards provided enthusiastic support for the proposed changes. Here lived the industrialists, lawyers, and bankers who formed the leadership of the Furniture Manufacturers Association, and the Association of Commerce. These men shared social and business connections through Kent Country Club and the Peninsular Club, and many were members of Fountain Street Baptist Church.

By contrast, those who voted against the City Charter changes in 1916 were made up almost entirely of working class constituents. The wards voting against the changes were the twelfth ward in the southwest part of the city and the entire west side.

Again, according to Kleiman, “After a decade of struggle, the furniture manufacturers and other economic leaders of the new industrial city finally controlled the government.” We would all do well to recognize this history of the voting structure in Grand Rapids and not assume that it has change changed much over the years

Representation for whom?

The Revue Magazine took a different approach to the issue in their article from last Friday

The article raises several interesting points. First, the issue of racial representation was addressed, both black and latinx representation. There has never been a latinx person elected to the City Commission and more wards could provide an opportunity for that to happen. However, a member of Equity PAC, Denavvia Mojet, challenges GRDI, with these observations:

“As a huge believer in equity, I’ve heard so much skepticism about how this is being framed. It’s almost ignoring the fact that we have three black commissioners now, and the two white people pushing this (VandenBerg and Michael Tuffelmire) are two white people who lost to black people (Commissioners Joe Jones and Senita Lenear).”

A second point worth bringing up has to do with the mission statement from GRDI, which says it is a non-partisan effort. However, the Revue Magazine piece cites Mike Kolehouse as a GRDI organizer and Grand Rapids Political Consultant. The truth is, that Mike Kolehouse is a paid political operative of the Democratic Party, which calls into question how non-partisan this effort is.

Lastly, it is mentioned early on in the Revue Magazine article that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is not really in favor of restructuring the Grand Rapids City Commission. The Revue article states:

“the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is raising “initial concerns” about the potential of more voices at the table stymying the business of the city, specifically about whether the proposal accounts for “big-picture thinking” about Grand Rapids.”

This is exactly the concerns that members of the Capitalist Class had after the 1911 Furniture Workers Strike. The Furniture Barons were completely opposed to having too many working class people have a say in determining the political future of Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, which is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, also has issues with working class people making decisions that could affect their bottom line. 

Reformism or Radical Imagination

This last point about the business class not wanting regular people having too much power to make decisions about what happens in Grand Rapids. The GRDI would do well to have an astute class analysis moving forward. But this also raises issues about racial representation. While I am in principle, supportive of more people of color being in positions of power, the reality is that it doesn’t always translate into meaningful representation.

The Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative ultimately is a reformist approach to a much larger problem of democracy and political power. What this proposal does, as do many proposals is to only slightly adjust how systems of power function, but it will never really challenge systems of power. Why do we limit ourselves to having elections that means we give our power over to those who are elected to be “our representatives?”

Instead of just participating in reformist solutions, why don’t we radically imagine another possibility. For the last several decades, the global movements for justice, coming together under the World Social Forum, has used the phrase, Another World is Possible. Indeed, another world is possible, one that might adopt more direct forms of democracy, forms of governance that are much more participatory, like the models that radical theorist Murray Bookchin wrote about, called Radical Municipalism. There are also lots of other examples historically that we could learn from, like what many indigenous communities practiced, such as the Iroquois Federation or the Spanish Anarchists or what the largest contemporary social movement in the world, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, The Landless Workers Movement in Brazil.

When one considers that Grand Rapids is faced with institutionalized White Supremacy, gentrification that displaces people on a daily basis, a housing market that serves developers and property management companies, a massive wealth gap (the worst in Michigan) and an urgent climate crisis, it seems that we need to move away from reformist politics and begin to radically imagine another world.

Gardens for Grand Rapids partners with Steepletown and continues providing raised garden beds for families experiencing food insecurity in 2019

June 3, 2019

On Friday, the last of the raised garden beds were delivered for 2019. This was the fourth year that Gardens for Grand Rapids has built and delivered raised garden beds, soil and plants for families experiencing food insecurity. Over the four year period, Gardens for Grand Rapids has provided 135 families with raised garden beds.

However, this year was somewhat different, in a good way. This year, Gardens for Grand Rapids partnered with Steepletown Neighborhood Services, specifically their JobStart program. Steepletown applied for a Neighborhood Match Fund grant and was selected to receive the grant in April. The idea that Steepletown had in mind for the Neighborhood Match Fund was to partner with Gardens for Grand Rapids to not only provide 25 families with a raised garden bed, soil and plants, but to provide an opportunity to the young men in the JobStart program to learn some new skills and maybe develop an interest in gardening.

JobStart is a program that provides employment and job skills to young men between 18 – 24 years of age. Many of the young men have been in juvenile detention or jail and have struggled to find or maintain employment. JobStart offers several different areas of  paid work, plus the young men meet daily with the program supervisor, who acts as a mentor to them.

So what we did this year that was different from pervious years of practicing food justice, was to teach the young men how to build the raised beds, help us fill each garden bed with soil and provide tools and plants for each family. During this whole process we had great conversation with the guys about growing food, seeds, plants, how to harvest, how to can/preserve food and why it is that so many people experience food insecurity.

The guys who worked directly with me were genuinely intrigued by the work, the skill building and what other possibilities there might be when it comes to food production. This year also helped to facilitate the practice of food justice outside of a food centered framework. What I mean by that is the fact that this year felt more about offering skill building to the young men in the program, as well as allowing them to imagine the possibilities that food justice can provide to those who have been subject to the prison industrial complex.

In Joshua Sbicca’s book, Food Justice Now: Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle, he talks about the need to incorporate food justice into larger struggles for social change and why we need to have an intersectional approach to these struggles. Sbicca writes:

We call on those in the food movement to recognize the intersections between exploitation of communities via the prison industrial complex and our food system; this recognition is essential to achieve our ultimate liberation. It is critical that we understand that the patterns of domination and exploitation that drive our prison and policing systems are inherently connected with the patterns of domination and exploitation that drive the inequalities within our food system. We who believe in food justice, we who believe in food sovereignty must recognize the need for an abolition of all enslavement and exploitation in order to achieve real justice.

In addition, what made this year’s project so much more exciting, was the fact that this work can provide job opportunities to these young men, increased skill building,  a chance to fight against the carceral state and a chance to practice food justice in order to see how these issues overlap and interact with each other.

Lastly, we are in conversation with Steepletown Neighborhood Services about expanding this work and to increase capacity so as to build upon this year’s experiment. We will keep you informed about what else might come from this partnership.

Food Justice Now!

Award winners, war crimes and the GVSU Faculty dissent letter

June 2, 2019

On Friday, we posted a piece about former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, speaking at the Econ Club of Grand Rapids annual dinner. That post focused on the capitalist class in West Michigan, the Econ Club members, and what Haley had to say about Capitalism and Socialism. 

However, Haley didn’t just speak at the Econ Club’s annual dinner, she also was the recipient of the Col. Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship Award, an award presented by the Hauenstein Center at GVSU.

A number of GVSU faculty members objected to this award being given to Nikki Haley, so much so, that they crafted a letter of dissent, which can be read in its entirety at this link

The following except from the letter provides the basic objection to the award going to Nikki Haley:

Ambassador Haley’s most prominent national political role to date has been as a loyal member of the Administration of Donald Trump. She supported the Administration during her tenure as U.N. Ambassador, and has continued to do so since stepping down. Yet the current Administration systematically distorts norms of public discourse and conduct, and consistently seeks to undermine public trust in fact-finding and knowledge-generating institutions, including the judiciary, the press, science, and the university. Our objection to the award is that Ambassador Haley’s support for the Administration includes these very efforts. Efforts to undermine standards of public discourse and conduct, and public trust in institutions such as GVSU itself. Awarding her is thus endorsing someone who has been unapologetically complicit in the undermining of the very values that the institution stands for. It is this to which we object.

The entire letter is well articulated and makes a strong case for their collective objection to the former US Ambassador to the United Nations as the recipient of this award from GVSU. I agree with the basic arguments laid out in the letter and am grateful that some faculty members took a public stance against the university’s decision to give the award to Haley.

However, there does seem to be a double standard in this case, especially considering who else has been the recipient of the very same award from the Hauenstein Center. The award has been given out since 2011 and has included the following recipients:

  • Gerald R. Ford
  • Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Madeleine Albright
  • James Baker
  • William Cohen
  • Paul O’Neill
  • John Beyrle
  • Adm. James M Loy
  • Tommy Remengesau
  • Carla Hills
  • Sec. Robert Gates
  • Gen. Wesley Clark

There are several former high ranking US military officials who have received the award. For instance, General Brent Scowcroft was the US National Security Advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush. This means that during those two administrations, Scowcroft would have endorsed the US decision in 1974 to support the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, a decision that led to one of the worst genocides in the 20th Century. Under George Bush Sr, Scowcroft would have been complicit in the 1989/90US invasion of Panama, resulting in the deaths of several thousand Panamanian civilians and the 40-day US bombing of Iraq in 1991, which kills thousands of Iraqi civilians and destroyed much of the Iraqi infrastructure, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands more, specifically children.

We could also talk about Robert Gates, who was the Director of the CIA during the George H.W. Bush administration, as well as the US Secretary of Defense during the George W Bush administration and part of the Barack Obama administration (2006 – 2011). Gates was also part of the Central Intelligence agency for decades, which means he was not only aware of the vicious covert activities the CIA was involved in, he had a hand in those activities. For example, while Gates was Deputy Director of the CIA, under the Reagan administration, Gates was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, a drugs for guns for money scheme that resulted in providing support for the Contra terrorist forces in Central America.

Maybe we could talk about Madeleine Albright, who was the Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration. In addition to her role in the US bombing of Kosovo and Sudan, Albright was a key figure in the Clinton Administration’s decision to impose economic sanctions on Iraq. These sanctions, coupled with the 1991 US destruction of Iraqi infrastructure, led to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. Albright was questioned about this decision on 60 Minutes in 1996, by Leslie Stahl:

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it

We could go on, but I think the point is clear here. Recipients of past Hauenstein Center awards have served in both Republican and Democratic administration and have engaged in what are considered by international law standards, War Crimes. Now, I am unaware of any faculty at GVSU crafting a public letter of objection against any of the previous award recipients. We have to ask why? Were the war crimes that many of the previous award recipients involved in also not objectionable? Are any of the previous award recipients not deserving of a letter of dissent?

Again, I agree wth the GVSU faculty who objected to Nikki Haley’s award, but doesn’t the bombing of civilians and the deaths of innocent civilians merit the same kind of outrage? Important questions for scholars, students and West Michigan community members alike.